The state of Arkansas has attracted national attention with its proposed plan to execute eight prisoners over 11 days via lethal injection, the highest number of executions in the shortest amount of time in over 50 years. The decision was motivated by the imminent expiration on the state’s supply of midazolam, a sedative not intended for use in lethal injection, that is difficult to replace.
Appeals have been repeatedly filed and contested over every individual facing execution in this death penalty spree, with litigators tussling through Monday night over the case of Don Davis, who was served his last meal and prepared for execution. The Guardian reports that at 11:50 p.m., the US Supreme Court declined to lift the stay on the execution of Davis that had been imposed by the Arkansas Supreme Court earlier on Monday.
Their decision hinged on the fact that during his trial in the early nineties, Davis had insufficient “independent counsel on the question of his mental health.” Davis has a number of severe mental health issues, including organic brain damage and fetal alcohol syndrome. The next two scheduled deaths are for Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee on Thursday, and defense lawyers are preparing for the next round of hearings.
Johnson and Lee are now finding additional support in their cases from the ACLU and the Innocence Project, an organization that attempts to exonerate the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing and forensic science. If efforts to overturn their convictions fail, objections to the use of midazolam may be the next line of defense. The sedative was not designed to make individuals completely unconscious, and there have been several recorded instances in which inmates appeared to be suffering intensely before their deaths, violating their Eight Amendment rights.
In a statement, Governor Asa Hutchinson said, “While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we will continue to fight back on last-minute appeals and efforts to block justice for the victims’ families.”